RealTime IT News

Is Patent Reform Fight Almost Over?

With Congress back from recess, the fight for sweeping legislation to reform the patent system may be entering its final stages -- according to members of the Coalition for Patent Fairness, the association representing companies supporting the bill.

Groups negotiating the Patent Reform Act reached a compromise on the majority of the provisions before the recess, leaving only a few issues still unresolved. Active discussions are currently taking place at both the staffer and member levels, said Mark Isakowitz, a spokesman for the coalition.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Harry Reid's office confirmed that the majority leader was committed to introducing the bill before the next recess eight weeks from now, and possibly as early as next week.

"We feel like the momentum is on our side. I am personally optimistic about this bill," Isakowitz said. "We're picking up some signals from people around town that we are in endgame."

The bill passed in the House in September.

If approved by the Senate, the bill would be the first major overhaul of the U.S. patent system in more than 50 years. Firmly backed by a broad group of companies within the tech industry, the legislation faces sharp opposition from pharmaceutical and biotechnical companies, organized labor and many industry groups.

Ronald J. Riley, president of the Professional Inventors Alliance (PIA), argues that any crowing about the bill's imminent passage is premature, and that it still faces real obstacles in the Senate.

"They don't have the votes," said Riley. "Reid's got to convince Democrats to go against organized labor. I just can't imagine Senators who are Democrats going on an official position against organized labor."

"If he brings it to the floor, it's going to go down in flames," he added.

Chief among the criticisms of the bill is that it favors large companies who can amass large portfolios of relatively insignificant patents, while raising the entry barrier for small companies or individuals who could be priced out of the patent application process.

Gregory Fossedal, co-founder and chairman of the financial services company Freedmand's LLC, is an outspoken critic of the bill, but he admitted that its proponents had lobbied effectively on its behalf.

"I've got to take my hat off on this. They've moved it through the House and Senate very quietly," he told InternetNews.com.

The impact on future generations

Patent reform, Fossedal said, is "more important than the Bear Stearns bailout, NAFTA and the Bush tax cuts combined in the impact it will have on the next generation."

Both opponents and supporters of the bill agree that the patent system is not working as effectively as it should.

"We need patent reform; we just need the reform to go the other way," Fossedal said, arguing that the process needs to become less arcane and more hospitable to smaller companies.

Joining Isakowitz on this morning's conference call were attorneys who had been lobbying for large tech companies in support of the bill. According to Chuck Fish, a vice president and chief patent counsel for Time Warner (NYSE: TWX), the only points on which the senators had yet to agree were comparatively minor within the scope of the entire bill.